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Day 12 - Race Day, CCC by UTMB

Updated: Sep 16

I'll be honest, when I registered my interest I knew the chances of getting in were going to be slim, I really only signed up because if I didn't, I would have had to do another Qualifying event before I could even apply to get in... Honestly I wasn't expecting to be accepted, once I did get accepted I had about 10 days to make a yes or no decision and after speaking to a few running friends they all agreed that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so why not.

The build up of my training didn't exactly go to plan, unfortunately about 9 weeks from the event or so I developed Runners Knee, then a week after that I got COVID, so I was out of action for at least a good few weeks before I could start training again, unfortunately with the knee injury not going away, my coach and I (working with your coach is a partnership, right?) felt it was better to cut the training back as to not aggravate it too much, this gave me two days of gym work which was a cardio (stair climber session) in the morning, followed by strength and stability in the evening. Two days of specific stretching and mobility exercises and then the two weekend days of low intensity training on the hills.

The race starts at 9am, a much more reasonable time in my opinion, but as I'm one of the slower people here, I get to start near the back as to not hold up some of the faster ones, but who knows, maybe I may pass some of them, maybe I'll even pass Tarik or Phillipe, the two guys I've met the last couple of nights who are both planning on hiking the trail. Whatever happens, it's going to be an experience that's for sure. So, sit back, grab a glass of wine or electrolytes, and have a read of how my CCC experience goes.

The Race

If you had asked me when I first started running 8 years ago if so would have ever thought I would be at one of the largest Ultra Running events in the world, I would have said said your dreaming, but probably with a few more colourful words. But here I am, 1st of September, standing on the start line of the CCC by UTMB, preparing to run 100km with around 2,000 other people, around Mont Blanc starting in Courmayeur Italy, into Champex-Lac Switzerland then all the way into Chamonix in France.

As I walked to the start line from my hotel and crossed the bridge, I heard a voice calling out from behind me, "You must work for Stuff", I turned and said "ahhh, yeah" in a puzzled voice, turns out this guy (photo below) was the brother of one of my work colleagues Iain McGregor, small world. We walked to the start line together, but as he was in one of the earlier waves we wished each other luck and made way to our entry points. On the start line I look up and really start to take it all in, I'm here... In Courmayeur looking at amazing scenery, I could start to feel a tear beginning to form, I didn't care, I'm sure a lot of people here today would have similar feelings, at the start, during or at the end. The music began and off went the first wave, the fast runners, I can only assume Brooke Thomas one of New Zealand's faster runners competing today was in that first wave. As they move out, the next wave lines up, it appears there was a bit of confusion from some runners as they had lined up in the third wave, instead of the second so they were hurrying through from the back trying to get back up the front a bit.

As they took off, it was soon my wave's turn to advance. Although I had initially been near the front, as we moved forward, everyone began to run ahead while I continued to walk. We have 100km ahead of us, and these people are already running just to get 50 meters ahead.

The music starts playing and you could start to feel the emotion kicking up again, but this time with some excitement, ready to run. The countdown happens and then we are off, the first couple of Kilometers went by rather quickly, breaking the poles out after the first Kilometer preparing for the climb, after the third Kilometer I hear someone call my name, hey Jonathan, another Kiwi, I turn around to find it's a stranger, I've never met them before and yet they knew my name, I had forgotten that my name was on the back of my hydration vest, with the NZ flag on it, within a couple of minutes another Kiwi joined us as we continued to climb the hill, turns out we all represented the main city's, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I let them continue on as I tried to find my pace on the uphill only to come across another two Kiwi's, one from Little River and one from Rotorua, obviously a good contingent of New Zealanders out here.

We reached our first official hill climb which starts with... A wait, a bottleneck which caused a huge delay (at least 20 minutes) as we started up the zig zag hill section... No matter how far you looked there was just a row of people ahead of you as you started to accend the first mountain. It was still relatively cool in the morning which did make the climb a bit easier, but still your consistently moving trying to make up whatever ground you could, which was really not possible given that the track was a single person track, if you wanted to pass you had to wait for someone to pull over, or risk an ankle injury like I did at one point on a small downhill section about half way up. I found myself trailing two female runners who were moving at a rather slow pace. One of them held her poles with their tips pointing behind her, nearly poking my eyes a few times. When I spotted an opening to the side during a downhill section, I swiftly maneuvered between a couple of points, almost slipping down the bank. I quickly recovered and continued, making up a significant amount of time. Then, onto the next part of the hill climb... Another steep zig zag section which would continue on for about 700 meters until we reached the top. This section was uncovered, no trees or anything and by this stage the heat started to pick up a bit, despite the nice breeze, which without, would have probably made the climb a bit tougher.

Upon reaching the summit, I took a moment to appreciate the view before starting my descent. Nancy Jiang and Ian Morgan had advised me to approach this section with caution, avoiding pushing too hard to avoid ruining the legs for the next uphill. So I took this section with a comfortable jogging pace for the most of it, there were some sections however which people were taking rather cautiously, but to me, it was easier than some of the trails at home, so I decided to just run them like I normally do, gaining me some extra ground, unfortunately as I was doing one of these sections, I saw one person being slowly extracted from it, it appears they must have taken a pretty bad fall. I arrived at the aid station and quickly filled up my bottles, grabbed some apples before leaving the aid station with about 15 minutes to spare. Continuing on the downhill section towards the next checkpoint/cutoff, was rather nice, although my watch for some reason didn't recognise a 2km section as an uphill, so I was kind of unexpecting to have to do much uphill in that section.

I reached a refuge, which is basically just a water stop, I topped up one of my bottles with Tailwind, and soaked my hat in the water to cool me down a bit, by this stage it was starting to get warm at about 25 degrees. Once my bottles were filled and I had downed a gel, I continued up the hill, as I passed a couple of hikers I heard, go New Zealand, I waved my arms around and called out, are you Kiwi too, turns out... They were, they were doing a 16 month trip to Italy, but generally lived in Christchurch or Wellington... Now before you ask, no I didn't stop for a chat, AI was moving this entire time... I was surprised how fast these two could move with hiking gear on. Eventually I got to a bit of downhill and I picked up the pace. Everytime they would come around a bend and could see me in the sldistsnce I would hear, "Go Jono, pick up the pace to the next Checkpoint" this was great, helped keeping me going.

Eventually I reached the next checkpoint, I arrived thinking I had 15 minutes to spare, but as I turned up they said, "Your finished", I was like, UHHH, No, I'm still good, then someone said, no 10 minutes he go, I got rushed into the tent where someone tried to take me out of the race, AI said, no I've been told I have 10 minutes, things were getting very confusing, then one of the people said, are eyounout, I replied, I'm good to go, if your good for me to continue. He replied, Yes, but you are last one, next section steep, you will need to move quickly. I quickly got my bottles filled again and headed out of the aid station, knowing there was possibly little chance I would make the cutoff at the next aid station, but I would certainly give it a try.

As I crossed the river and headed to the climb, I could see some of my fellow runners starting to struggle already, reaching the bottoms of the hill I began the climb, only to see some of the runners coming back, withdrawing themselves from the race, aibwas determined for that not to be me, as I pushed on up the hill catching and passing fellow runners. Still, more and more were turning back, I think I would say at least 10 people had turned back even though they were probably about a third of the way up already... It's probably because the hill is mentally challenging, at first, you just see a small hill and as you continue on you see a little bit more, until you come around a bend and then see the final part of climb number 2. As I started ascending this climb the Sweepers (or what we in NZ generally call Tailend Charlie's) started moving up from the back checking in on us, I know they were trying to be helpful, but to me it came across as pushy and putting pressure on me that I didn't need, I needed to focus on what I was doing, AI told them, I feel your trying to put pressure on me, whither the response of, "no pressure, no pressure", so I told them, "Well it feels like it", so thankfully they changed their tactic a bit and we continued on at a good pace as I continued to move up the hill as pass more people, each of the one ahead of me becoming my next target to catch. Suddenly as my watch ticked over to 30km, I looked 41minutes... Wow, it took me 41minutes to move 1km on a climb... I got to the top of the climb and they scanned my Bib, can I continue I asked, Yes, you are now in Switzerland as I crossed the border.

From there, I had roughly 10 kilometers to reach the next cutoff, and I had about 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of me. I knew it was going to be a tight race against time. The down hill wasn't too bad, but you still had to be mindful about foot placement as you didn't want to roll an ankle, and, knowing my luck, I wouldn't have been surprised if that happened. Thankfully no, my ankles were good and foot placement went well, although I did get a number of the runners I had passed earlier pass me on the downhill, downhill running is what I enjoy, but I didn't find myself really gaining much of a pace on this downhill section, I felt I was running but would look up to see the guy ahead of me just walking and still gaining ground. I got to a water refill station and broke out my tailwind filling my first bottle, as I went to put the lid back on I dropped the bottle loosing half of my electrolytes. I just had to pick up the bottle and fill up as much as I could before proceeding on, didn't have time to waste.

As I got closer to the bottle of the hill we started to see more tree coverage, at this stage it was almost 8pm, so was getting dark, so had to be a little careful with the tree root section to avoid rolling it, that was just a small section so only took about 30 seconds to get down that, as I got to the bottom of the hill, it looked like to was going to be close to the cutoff, I managed to push my way along the trail next to a river, meeting up with a lady from Singapore who asked me if we were close to the checkpoint, having no idea, I replied "I'm not sure, but let's just give this our best and see how we go", I knew she was wondering about the cutoff time, as was I, I was pretty sure it was 8:15, but who knows, perhaps I had the time wrong, so I said, let's just keep moving. As we ran through the township of La Fouly with people cheering us on, we finally arrived at the checkpoint, no sooner had we got in, we were told we had been withdrawn from the race missing the cutoff by about 30 minutes, we were rushed out to the bus which was waiting to head back. Hopping on the bus I looked up to see a lot more people than I was expecting, a full busload of people in fact.

So there I sat, race over on the bus back to Chamonix, was it a shame I couldn't continue, of course, but was I happy with how I did, absolutely. A bloody tough course, with amazing scenery. Honestly, it gives me a way lot more respect for the elite runners, knowing they they smash those runs out so well. Now obviously not everyone would be happy with how they went on their run, but for me... I was and that's all that matters. Will I give it another go, who knows... Maybe, but a lot needs to happen before that could take place, apart from Qualifying for the race again, I would also need to be accepted, for now I'm going to take about of a break from running (don't get me wrong, I'm still going to run, but not so extreme for a while, get back into the gym, and get nutrition back under control.

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